Vanilla Fields (Coty)

The cold chill of dry winter air is finally setting in, and it looks like we southern New Englanders have a finicky season ahead of us, full of unpredictable temperature shifts and mixed precipitation. The holidays are mostly over, and it's the perfect time for seasonal depression. Feel like shit yet? Don't. Winter is a time for cheering up. That's where perfume comes in.

There are a myriad of vanilla perfumes on the current fragrance market, many cheap and crude, others pricey and overdone. Guerlain is the reference brand for competent vanillas, but there's something inherently wrong with vanilla these days. It's a note that applies itself too literally. A bad vanilla smells like dessert, Friendly's ice cream melted on skin. A good one can smell deceptively fresh and green. A great one smells fun. Vanilla Fields is an underrated early-nineties vanilla perfume that not only smells great, but accomplishes something rare in postmodern perfumery - instant entertainment.

Coty's vanilla is ostensibly feminine, but forget it, it's thoroughly unisex. I'm amused by its packaging. There's a bit of awkward copy on the back of the box that warns customers of "color variations depending on batch," and "different ingredients depending on the harvest." Is this the first "Millésime" perfume? What hits skin is a little surprising: a woody floral, softly lit by lactonic brightness (remote hints of peach), a soft, nutty vibe, on a woodsy base that clearly shines through even the immediate top notes. In a rare instance of agreeing with The Guide and Tania Sanchez's assessment, I find this to be the elucidation of an old-fashioned summer scent, namely suntan lotion. It has mimosa sweetness, a creamy coconut-like accord in its heart, and a soft vanilla in the periphery that throws me onto an umbrella-shaded blanket in July. Nice stuff, and while nothing cerebral, more than enough to chase away those January blues.